Expanding into new international online markets is, and will remain, a smart play for most companies. As AT Kearney recently wrote, “Across the world, shoppers are buying more products online … so there is clearly an opportunity (for expansion).” The consultancy firm added: “In many fast-growing emerging markets, the Internet is the safest, fastest way to get products from international brands.”
We've long championed this low-risk approach to retail expansion. Companies can easily and cost-effectively deploy translated websites in new markets to establish digital "beachheads" for their brands, gauge consumer interest, and sell more products to engaged consumers.
But what are the most important digital trends that are currently unfolding in online markets? Which ones should inform your company's global expansion efforts?
We recently examined the performance of five MotionPoint-powered global websites to find out. These sites serve the U.S., European and Chinese markets. Three of the companies are apparel e-retailers; the other two manufacture and sell cosmetics. These insights feature exclusive data and analysis by Victoria Bloyer, an Online Global Strategist on our Global Growth team.
Here are three online trends your company should watch:
Mobile and Tablets: The Genie’s Out of the Bottle
In the upcoming 18 months, mobile traffic will continue to conquer desktop traffic, as expected. (Mobile website traffic blew past desktop web traffic in 2014 and hasn’t looked back.) However, some analysts suggest that revenue generated from mobile and table users will soon eclipse desktop revenue in several e-commerce sectors.
“We have seen a greater confidence in consumers shopping on mobile,” one e-commerce exec recently told Econsultancy. “I think this will continue in 2016, so I would expect to see some background improvements in mobile conversion rates, over and above those produced by any CRO (conversion rate optimization) activity.”
This jibes with a recent Gartner report cited by a Multichannel Merchant contributor, which predicted that by next year, mobile commerce will drive half of all U.S.-based digital commerce revenue. Indeed, nearly one-third of Americans have made a purchase on their mobile devices.
Phones and tablets are powerful sales-engagement tools. According to that Multichannel Merchant writer, when apparel retailer American Eagle implemented a mobile-based chat feature for its m-commerce experience for its mobile-first target audience, over half of these inbound consultation-seeking chats were related to sales.
By next year, mobile commerce will drive half of all U.S.-based digital commerce revenue.
MotionPoint has certainly seen the remarkable rise of mobile and tablet traffic, transactions and commerce in the global sites it operates for clients. Presently, 35% of all sessions for the five cross-continent clients we examined hail from a mobile phone. Tablets represent about another 20%.
Interestingly, average conversion rates are nearly 115% higher on tablets. (2.86% for tablets, versus 1.34% for mobile.) Bounce rates are 5-10 percentage points lower on tablets than on smartphones.
"This reflects a worldwide trend that we've been seeing for years," Victoria explains. "It's commonly called 'smartphones are for browsing, and tablets are buying.' Users are doing most of their product browsing on their phones, consider the purchase, and then return on their tablets to buy the items."
Indeed, in a separate study of the German market, MotionPoint observed that tablet-based conversions are well over 90% those of smartphones, and have been for years. Independent reports also corroborate this.
"Since so much browsing is conducted on phones," Victoria advises, "this strengthens the case for not only launching translated mobile websites for global markets, but making them mobile-responsive. Providing mobile-friendly detailed pictures and item descriptions will make a huge difference for shoppers, particularly if it helps them making a buying decision later."
Social Media: Astonishing Worldwide Growth
Thanks to an ever-increasing number of smartphone owners in mobile-first emerging markets, global social media adoption has surged in recent years. This won’t slow down. According to Social Media Today, Statista, Facebook and Smart Insights:
- There are now more than 2.2 billion active social media users, a 30% global penetration rate
- That number will grow to nearly 2.5 billion by 2018, a 24% increase from 2015
- Facebook adds about 500,000 new users every day, or about 6 new profiles every second
- Nearly 85% of Facebook’s daily active users are based outside the U.S. and Canada
- Asia-Pacific mobile users are driving much of the most recent social-network adoption, with East Asian markets leading the world in number of new Internet users. South Asia is in second place.
Our data suggests explosive social network adoption in the global markets we examined for this study.
“While referral traffic from social media sources largely varies from market to market and site to site,” Victoria says, “some powerful trends are emerging—especially when comparing the past six months to past benchmarks.”
Traffic to MotionPoint-powered translated websites from Facebook grew by over 40% in the past six months. For better or worse, Facebook is increasingly elbowing out native social networks for dominance in many global markets.
Traffic from Pinterest grew by nearly 25%. This coincides with Pinterest’s increasing user base in overseas markets, particularly in China, India and Indonesia. (We suspect the 2015 debut of Pinterest’s native “buy now” initiative also contributed to this meaningful growth in inbound traffic.)
For better or worse, Facebook is increasingly elbowing out native social networks for dominance in many global markets.
Based on our observations, Twitter is in a troubling slump. Referral traffic to our global sites plummeted nearly 30% in the past six months. This dovetails with company’s recent announcements that it lost 2 million users in the last three months of 2015. Photo-based network Instagram now has more users than Twitter.
"It'll be very interesting to see how the social media landscape looks in another six months," Victoria says. "There could be some interesting shakeups. There are certainly some emerging platforms worth watching. One that caught my eye was Polyvore, a popular style community where users can create and share virtual 'outfits.' BuzzFeed's social-driven content is still growing in popularity."
We also noted a strong presence of referral traffic from Sina Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. MotionPoint clients that integrate Chinese social network functionality into their e-commerce sites have seen 30% surges in referral traffic, and 10% increases revenue via inbound social users.
VKontakte, a Russian social media platform that’s gaining ground in Germany, has also generated an increase in referral traffic to our global sites. We extensively covered VKontakte (and other Russian social networks) in a recent two-part blog series.
Understanding Peak Spending Months in Global Markets
U.S. e-retailers have long known about the “e-commerce summer doldrums,” and have concocted many clever ways to engage customers to offset slouching sales until retail-related searches explode in October.
Generally speaking, global retail sales always rise in the fourth calendar quarter, but e-commerce sales do so “even more intensely,” wrote one expert at St. Louis’ Federal Reserve Bank. Indeed, with a savvy knowledge of seasonality and spending peaks in international markets, retailers can smartly stock and promote products and generate sales they’d otherwise miss.
Consider these spending peaks we noticed during our recent study of five clients. In the cosmetics sector:
- February, August, and November are huge months for cosmetics sales
- February cosmetics sales generate 176% more revenue than in January
- August generates 212% more revenue than July
- November sees 119% more revenue than October
Fashion e-retailers see slightly different mileage, experiencing a one-month lag behind cosmetics in early- and mid-year sales. "The biggest peaks in spending are in March, September, and November," Victoria says, "with increases of 31%, 85%, and 46% respectively, compared to their preceding months."
Global retail sales always rise in the fourth calendar quarter, but e-commerce sales do so “even more intensely”.
The spending peaks we see for fashion aren't as high or pronounced as they are for cosmetics. "The monthly graph looks more like rolling hills than steep mountains," Victoria says.
We believe cosmetics sees more intense increases at earlier seasonal intervals (compared to apparel and other retail sectors) because makeup tends to last longer, and is therefore purchased less frequently.
“The spikes in global sales sync nicely with shopping events known widely around the world,” Victoria explains. “February’s sales are easily attributable to Valentine’s Day. Sales in November and December align with holiday shopping. Perhaps the peak in August sales can be attributed to customers stocking up on moisturizing products for the dry winter months, and finding appealing colors for the autumn and winter.”
To supercharge sales in off-seasons, invest effort in diagnosing the reasons for any noteworthy sales slumps, and shoring up efforts with smart marketing. We've found that e-mail-based outreach is especially effective in global markets. Last year, one MotionPoint client saw 43% of its single-day holiday revenue hail from a localized e-mail campaign.
Flash sales are another way to invigorate your most faithful global consumers to transact on your global sites.
“The point is to run flash sales for your regular customers,” a contributor to Ecommerce Platforms recently wrote. “If 1,000 people are browsing on your site, you have a large chance of selling out of a product if you offer them a flash sale popup. The urgency is often too much to pass up.”
For even more information about the importance of e-commerce and seasonality, check out our recent coverage on the topic. We provide some valuable insights into the shopping behaviors of German, French and Russian consumers.